March 29, 2012


This series is a little bit biographical and a little bit imaginary about my dad and a road trip he took in the summer of 1946, when he turned fifteen. He and a friend hitchhiked from Loring Park to Duluth, into Canada and back again. He was gone from home for a month. I was astonished and fascinated by the tale. So, I added some speculation about things I've always wondered about and this series is the result. To read earlier SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH, click on the label to the right. The FIRST entry is on the bottom.

Tommy Hastings and Freddie Merrill reached the road that ran alongside Lake Superior well before the sun rose over the lake.

“We gotta stay outta sight,” Tommy said, standing in the ditch. “Good thing it’s July, ‘cause I think if it wasn’t, we’d be up to our neck in water.”

“Or snow,” said Freddie. “I wouldn’t want to be here in the winter.”

Tommy nodded and sank back down, turning his back on the road and settling into a patch of foxtails. The soft, green fluff stirred in a faint breeze. “We just gotta wait until morning to do anything.”

Freddie sat down next to him and said, “What are we gonna do?”

“Don’t know,” he said at first. Then took a deep breath, let it go and replied, “We gotta go north.”

“Any farther and we’ll be in Canada.”

Tommy nodded. “The witch and the mobsters and the socialists wouldn’t be able to get us up there.”

They sat in silence for a long time. Waves on the shore were a distant rustle as they stared into the night. Far off, blinking lights made their way across the water, out of the harbor. Lighthouse beams swept out from two points – one on the Wisconsin side, one farther north of where they were. Finally Freddie said, “Your mom and dad are socialists.” He paused. “What are you gonna do when you get home?”

Tommy didn’t say anything for a long time. Freddie didn’t either. The light on the water crawled farther out. It disappeared. “No idea. They don’t act like socialists.”

“What’s a socialist act like?”

Tommy shrugged, “Like a Russian, I guess.”

“Russians were Allies, too. They kicked out the Nazis.”

“Yeah, but they’re still Communists and that’s bad.”

He looked at Freddie finally and said, “I know Commies are bad, but why are they bad? If they helped us kill Nazis, how can they be bad?”

Freddie shook his head. “I don’t know. Dad cusses ‘em out all the time.”

“He cusses you out all the time, too. That mean you’re a Commie?” Tommy grinned. The sky in the east had started to gray up. Morning was coming and maybe… “We should be able to hitch a ride north pretty soon.”

“In what? A milk truck?” Freddie snarled. He stood up anyway as Tommy flexed his hand. It was mostly better now. They turned south toward Duluth. The city was lit still, though most of the buildings they could see were dark. But there were still headlights here and there. Bunch of them headed uphill. He added, “Looks like most of the milk trucks are headed up to Land-o-Lakes.”

“Yup. Maybe there are tree trucks we can ride in.”

“‘Tree trucks’? What’s a tree truck?”

“I don’t know! But there’s lots of trees up north. Even more in Canada. I don’t even know what Canada makes – maybe they like chop down trees for wood or something.” In the distance, they heard the clear sound of grinding gears. Tommy said, “If we get up on the road, maybe we can hitchhike to Canada!” They scrambled up to the asphalt, reaching it in time to stand on the roadside. Five minutes later, the powerful beams of a massive truck caught them in its sights. The truck behind them slowed, gears grinding. Airbrakes hissing, it rolled to a stop with the door right next to them. The logo on the side read BLANDIN PAPER COMPANY.

The door swung open and a woman looked down at them, spit a wad of tobacco, scowled and said, “What d’you want?”

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